Top German Spy Loses Job after Clashing with Merkel

Hans-Georg Maassen president of Germany’s domestic security agency

The centre-left Social Democrats and some in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party had been calling for Maassen to be fired for playing down recent far-right violence in the eastern city of Chemnitz.

For a senior civil servant to publicly wade into such a politically sensitive issue would normally have meant swift career death, but Maassen's direct boss - Interior Minister Horst Seehofer - initially backed the spy chief.

The partners in Merkel's ruling coalition are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss Maassen's future.

In a short statement following three-way talks Tuesday between Merkel, Seehofer and the head of the Social Democrats, the government said Maassen will be moved to a new job within the Interior Ministry and will be replaced at the spy agency. "Mr Maassen will not be in charge for supervising the BfV at the ministry".

The deal allows each of the three parties to claim it got what it wanted.

Leftist lawmakers have accused Seehofer of undermining the credibility of the BfV agency by refusing to fire Maassen.

Head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz) Hans-Georg Maassen attends a reception of Germany's safety authority in Berlin, Germany, September 11, 2018.

In office since 2012, Maassen has also been criticized for alleged improper contacts with members of the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, which he denies.

"That he has in practice been promoted and that the SPD supports this, is a farce", fumed Dietmar Bartsch, the parliamentary head of the far-left Die Linke.

Days after the unrest, Maassen questioned the authenticity of amateur video footage showing street violence and voiced doubt that racists had "hunted down" foreigners - comments that directly contradicted Merkel, who had deplored the xenophobic attacks and "hatred in the streets". She said they "very clearly revealed hate" which could not be tolerated.

The far-right attacks in Chemnitz, which caused revulsion in Germany, were triggered by the fatal stabbing of a man over which police are holding a Syrian suspect and searching for an Iraqi man.

A German court on Tuesday released an Iraqi asylum seeker detained since last month in the case, his lawyer and a prosecutor said.

The Maassen row has exposed deep divisions in German society over Merkel's 2015 decision to open the country's borders to refugees fleeing wars in Syria and elsewhere.

That decision has also been blamed for fuelling the rise of the AfD, which became the largest opposition party after an election a year ago that weakened both Merkel's conservatives and the SPD.

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